My childhood home is in a small town in northwest Iowa. Kinda rural and secluded. The closest ‘big’ city was Sioux Falls. But like many rural areas, the countryside (which wasn’t farmland to feed the entire world) was dotted with numerous small towns/hamlets/villages within a 50 mile radius, some of which were in South Dakota. Rock Valley’s near Inwood, Fairview, Hudson, Hull, Sioux Center, Boyden, Doon, Rock Rapids, Ireton, Hawarden, Canton, Sheldon, Sanborn, Le Mars, Maurice, Orange City, Larchwood, Lester, Alvord, Carmel, Lebanon, Perkins Corner, Alton, Hospers, George, Newkirk, Akron and so on. Guess Rock Valley wasn’t as isolated as I thought when I was a kid.
Through most of my youth, it was just me, mom and dad. My 12 year old brother was killed when I was 7 and a couple years later my older sister got married. Mom started working after I was in school (not kindergarten because I went half days). By 5th grade mom and I routinely went shopping (during school hours). Yup, I skipped school with mom more often than I ever did with friends, and it was usually her idea. Yay me! Heck, I was game.
I walked home for dinner everyday (except cinnamon roll day or turkey dinner) because school was a block and a half away. Dinner was at noon and should not be confused with supper which took place between 5 and 6 o’clock at night. Most days mom came home for dinner so we ate together. Every few months she’d say, “do you want to go shopping this afternoon?” (Heck yes). And off we’d go.
It was surprising how small a neighboring town might be yet still have some decent retail shopping. I remember going to Doon (very small) when I was very young. Dad probably had to go to Lem’s auto salvage for something. We’d stop downtown (I’m being generous with the term downtown) and he took me to a general store. He bought me red plastic high heels which were killers but I was so cool, and once he bought me a tiny wooden case/shelf that held a real china tea set). Having some shops/stores in every town had a lot to do with the weather. Our winters were wicked so it benefited everyone in town and was a boost to the economy. Mom decided where we were going, I just didn’t know it yet. If she were seriously looking for a good church clothes it had to be Sioux Falls or Sioux City. There was not enough selection in small town boutiques. Mom didn’t want to walk into church service and see anyone else in a dress like hers. Gasp! Those 2 big cities ensured mom she’d not likely see a duplicate outfit on Sunday morning.
But if she were shopping for work outfits (less dressy pantsuits, she was decades ahead of Hilary) or me we were prone to go with the smaller shops in nearby towns for the afternoon. Two of her favorite shopping towns were Le Mars and Sheldon. I think the name of her favorite spot was called The Fashionette in Le Mars but that was a few miles further away, so we often opted for Sheldon which was 30 miles away. The downside was Sheldon smelled ghastly-most of the time. Sheldon had a business that roasted soybeans after the crop was harvested (a huge Iowa crop). It may sound like a fabulous fall day of roasting marshmallows for S’mores over an open fire but do not be hopelessly romantic or fooled. It smelled horrible and made you gag.
We’d start our shopping adventure at a small restaurant with a 3 sided, U-shaped counter seating on the corner of main street because they made homemade pies. We both had a thing for banana, coconut or lemon meringue. But first we’d order a meal. My ‘go to’ meal was a hamburger and French fries while mom ordered a bowl of their homemade soup and a side dish of pea salad. (Looking at those ice cold peas ladled in a mayonnaise based dressing with cheese chunks, onions, chopped up hard boiled eggs was harder to take than the soybean plant’s odor). Hahaha, now I make that exact same salad often and love it.
It was usually a pair of shoes that drew us to Sheldon. Didn’t matter if the shoes were for work, high heels for church or a casual pair to wear around the house, this particular shoe store always carried what mom was looking for. I think there was a great department store in Sheldon where we could find something cute for me (maybe Wulf’s?). We’d walk through the downtown area which included lots of window shopping envy, but most often left Sheldon with something new for both of us. A couple of our shopping excursions were disastrous but for the most part I have good memories about skipping school with mom…